An up-and-down meteor shower will be at its best the next few nights. On the downside, the Moon will be in the middle of the action. On the upside, the shower could produce a bonus on Friday night.
The Leonid meteor shower is the spawn of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the Sun, it sheds grains of dirt and rock. They form a wide trail behind the comet. Earth flies through that trail every November. Bits of comet dust ram into the atmosphere at more than 150,000 miles per hour. They quickly vaporize, forming the glowing streaks of light known as meteors or shooting stars.
Every 33 years or so, we fly through a denser clump of comet dust, creating a meteor storm — thousands of meteors per hour. Unfortunately, that’s not happening this year. Instead, we’ll see perhaps a dozen meteors per hour at the shower’s usual peak, tomorrow night.
A couple of meteor experts say we could encounter a denser part of the comet trail around midnight on Friday, producing a few dozen to a couple of hundred meteors per hour.
Unfortunately, the Moon is in the middle of the action. The focal point of the shower is in Leo. Tonight, the Moon is close to the lion’s brightest star, Regulus. Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but the Moon makes it harder to spot them. By Friday night, the Moon will rise late enough to provide a short window for watching the meteors, with peak hours from about midnight until 2 or 3 a.m.
Script by Damond Benningfield